Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took direct aim at both President Barack Obama and potential 2016 Republican rival Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during a sweeping foreign policy address Wednesday.
Rubio took not-so-veiled shots at Paul and his isolationist father, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, and painted Obama as a hapless leader in a dangerous world. Rubio cast himself up as a clear-eyed leader, beholden to neither side of the dove-hawk foreign policy dichotomy.
"These labels are obsolete - they come from the world of the past," Rubio said, during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. "The time has now come for a new vision for America's role abroad, one that reflects the reality of the world we live in today."
He acknowledged that those proposing a reduced role of American influence - and foreign aid - abroad make an attractive pitch, but argued such isolationism in the past has created a dangerous power vacuum.
"On issue after issue, these voices have used the increasing uncertainty abroad and the economic insecurity here at home to argue for it's best for America to stay on the sidelines," Rubio said. "Now there's no denying that a globally engaged America comes at a steep price, but the history of our still young nation shows and is full of warnings that a lack of American engagement and leadership comes with an even higher price of it's own."
Rubio outlined the importance of balancing American's use of force against other, he argued often more effective, approaches.
"While the military is our most eye-catching method of involvement abroad, it is far from being our most often utilized," he said. "In most cases, the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance and economic power are the most effective ways to achieve our interests and to stop problems before they spiral into crisis."
Obama, Rubio said, has failed to both operate with a " clear, strategic foreign policy" and to sufficiently articulate to the public reasons for the decisions the administration has made. In particular, Rubio used Syria as representative of Obama's waivering that resulted in chaos.
Touching on a topic where Paul, who also recently delivered a foreign policy speech, has gained libertarian momentum on, Rubio defended U.S. spying policies revealed by the federal leaker Edward Snowden.
"We must respond to the valid concerns of Americans who are alarmed by reports regarding their civil liberties, but we must also distinguish these reasonable concerns from conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden," Rubio said. "This man is a traitor who sought assistance and refuge from some of the world's most notorious violators of liberty and human rights."
Rubio took a "trust us" approach to public concerns about the government infringing on their right to privacy.
"Our intelligence programs need to be carefully monitored and controlled, but we do need them because terrorists don't use carrier pigeons to communicate, they use cell phones and the Internet," he said.
But a critical element missing in the equation is a more inclusive discussion of the policies with the American public, Rubio added.
"Those of us tasked with the oversight and monitoring of these programs, starting with the president, need to be honest with the American people about the daily threats that we face," he said. "We need to bring the American people with us. Americans - especially those living outside this city - they need their leaders to make a compelling case for the importance of international engagement."
Rubio is slated to deliver a similar speech in London in December as he seeks to bolster his international credibility.